As volunteers set up strings of lights and rose garlands for the annual Stroud high school prom, teachers walked laps in the gym.
They were on strike, and they were part of a 125-strong attempt to march from Tulsa to the state capitol, to demand improved state funding. They were hoping to make up miles missed after lightning forced them to cancel Friday’s marching, three miles outside Bristow.
“I wanna make sure that I can log in all my miles and say that when I get to Oklahoma City I walked the full 110,” said one marcher, Larry Schultz, as the Proclaimers song I’m Gonna Be (500 miles) blared over the school loudspeakers.
The march may have been becalmed but at the state capitol two measures passed that are expected to increase taxes and fund much-needed classroom supplies. One is meant to tax third-party vendors in the state who sell over Amazon. The other, known as “the ball and dice tax”, will expand taxes on tribal casinos. The measures are expected to raise $92m.
Less than a week ago, success seemed unlikely. Having granted the teachers a $6,000 raise, the state’s Republican leadership vowed not to do anything else. On Friday, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) said the passage of the measures was a sign of growing support for the Oklahoma teachers’ movement.
“Today the legislature started to hear us,” the OEA said in a statement. “The passage of clean versions of the ‘ball and dice’ legislation, HB 3375, and the Amazon tax bill, HB 1019, were vital to Oklahoma students. Because of the educators, parents and students who have taken to the Capitol this past week, the new funding for Oklahoma’s students nearly doubled.”
However, the OEA also criticized the repeal of a recently passed $47m hotel and motel tax, which had been slated to boost education funding, as a sign of bad-faith bargaining by Republican leadership.
“We call on Governor [Mary] Fallin to immediately veto [the repeal] because it steals $42m in funding away from Oklahoma’s students,” the OEA said.
The teachers vowed not to end their strike until the state passed senate bill 1086, which would close a loophole in the state’s capital gains tax and raise an estimated $100m for classroom resources. The Oklahoma GOP has so far refused to consider raising the capital gains tax.
In the Stroud gymnasium, teachers doing laps round the basketball court vowed to stay out as long as it took.
“We have stayed out this long so we might as well go the distance,” said Beth Young, a Stroud middle school special education teacher. “If we started this then we gotta finish this, no matter what.”